With the introduction of online campground reservations car camping as we know it has forever changed. Gone are the days of spontaneous trips where you could venture up a lost highway until you stumbled across a campground and pitched your tent in the darkness of night. Sadly, much of the adventure of camping has been lost thanks to man’s quest to digitize nearly everything.
So where does that leave the wanderlust who wants to travel without an itinerary – destinationless and alone with the road? Luckily there are still some areas out there untouched by the harmful rays of the interwebs. But where do you find them?
To find campgrounds that do not take reservations you really need to venture out beyond the halo of large cities and metropolitan areas. Usually, this will mean driving several hours more than most weekend warriors are willing to go. In Oregon, this means venturing out towards Central and Eastern Oregon and other desolate areas.
First Come First Served State Parks
Surprisingly there are still some Oregon State Parks that have campgrounds which are on a first come first served basis. Check out the Oregon State Parks website here (https://oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=reserve.dsp_firstcome) for a list of these campgrounds. As you might have expected, most of these campgrounds are far from the reaches of densely populated areas
First Come, First Served Forest Service Campgrounds
Finding first come, first served campgrounds in the National Forest requires a little more detective work on the back end. There is no filter on the US Forest Service website for unreservable campgrounds so you have to check each campground individually. To do this, first figure our where you are headed. For this example lets say we want to find a campground in the Mt. Hood National Forest. Find the campground you want to inquire about and click on it. One of the very first things you will see is information on reservations.
In this example we see that Badger Lake Campground does not allow reservations. You can repeat this until you find an area you want to visit or campground that suits your needs.
Things to Keep in Mind
Sure, campground reservations take away some of the adventure of camping but they also serve a purpose. More and more people are taking to the outdoors and in turn it has resulted in campgrounds having to turn away visitors when they hit capacity. When too many people show up to camp, say at Trillium Lake, it can cause problems. Especially when they all show up late at night expecting a site and then having nowhere to go. Campground reservations have helped solve this problem.
When heading out without reservations it is a good idea to have backup plans. If you are wanting to camp at a specific campground you should have additional campgrounds you can stay at in case the one you want is full when you arrive. An easy way to do this is to choose an area which has additional campgrounds located further out from your original intent. You should also be prepared to camp in dispersed campgrounds – in other words camp in the woods.
It is Challenging but Worth it
Camping without reservations is incredibly rewarding. It allows you to venture out until you find a place that looks awesome. It brings adventure back into camping and allows you to follow your instincts. It is totally worth it.